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March 13th, 2010

Fulton County Weaknesses And Failures - Why All Citizens In Fulton County Deserve Local Accountable Government

The following is a list of incidents or activities that have negatively affected every citizen of Fulton County...

Lynne Riley

By Lynne Riley / Fulton County Commissioner

The following is a list of incidents or activities that have negatively affected every citizen of Fulton County.  At over 1,000,000 residents, Fulton County has a population larger than six U.S. States.  The enormity of Fulton County government has resulted in ineffective and inefficient service delivery.  Smaller governments will be more accountable to the residents of Milton and the new Fulton Counties.

Atlanta/Fulton County Public Library System: The settlement of the Discrimination lawsuit cost taxpayers $20 million.  Ineffective management played a significant role in this incident.

Settlement of litigation against the Fulton County Sheriff resulted in a Federal Consent Order requiring $50 million in repair and upgrade costs to the Fulton County Jail. Fulton County incurred additional outsourcing cost exposure during the renovations – lack of proactive facility maintenance.

Former Fulton County Sheriff Jackie Barrett was removed from office following the disclosure of embezzlement activities, which resulted in additional costs to taxpayers.

Fulton County Courthouse security plan and procedure deficiencies resulted in 4 tragic deaths on March 11, 2005. Wrongful death lawsuits have costs taxpayers millions to settle. Deficiencies in security still exist in 2009.

The Grady Health System – Lack of due diligence in oversight of re-imbursement for indigent care services has resulted in Fulton County taxpayers subsidizing the bad debt of the Grady Health system. In May of 2009, a process was approved to implement systems of accountability for health care services to qualified Fulton County residents. A September, 2009 action by the Board of Commissioners over-rode this corrective action, advancing funds with no requirements to substantiate their correct use.

The 2005 audit of the Fulton County Board of Assessors found multiple deficiencies, many of which remain uncorrected to this day. The 15 year delay in updated valuation of non-residential real property in Fulton County caused a loss of tax revenue over a period of years, as well as a disproportionate burden on homeowners.

There is only one water source in North Fulton – the water treatment plant in Johns Creek. Currently there is no interconnectivity with other water providers for general or emergency needs.

Lack of strategic long term land use planning in North Fulton resulted in a construction moratorium in 2001 due to the lack of wastewater treatment capacity. This action resulted in increased costs to Fulton County wastewater customers.

Fulton County Water Services has been fined for repeated waste-water spills and EPD violations. These fines cause increased service costs to customers.  Wastewater spills cause harm to the environment.  These problems can be attributed to a lack of strategic management and insufficient capital investment in infrastructure in the water/wastewater services division.

Following the loss of life in 2008, the Fulton County 911 system audits affirmed multiple deficiencies. Sadly, many of these deficiencies in response times continue in 2009.

Fulton County’s inefficient asset management practices: It was found in 2008 that Fulton County had no Asset Inventory; no oversight of purchasing and tracking; inability to locate over $160 million in asset purchases.

Fulton County Facilities: Over $50 million in critical infrastructure repairs were identified in 2008– no annual capital contributions have been or are being made to address these needs.

Fulton County Justice System: A 1999 failure to integrate IT systems among departments wasted $20 million of capital investment. An approved 2006 Criminal Justice Integration System project has been delayed for over 3 years; 2009 funding for capital investment in this project was revoked at mid-year.

State of Georgia Local Assistance Grants: A compliance failure in 2005 resulted in a lack of pass through grant eligibility in 2006. Fulton County management performed none of the required oversight of grant pass-through recipients. This situation was rectified in 2007 by the use of taxpayer dollars to repay the State of Georgia for un-accounted funds distributed to grant recipients.

Federal HUD Sanctions from 2006 to 2008 were caused by program mismanagement. Federal sanctions were applied, and taxpayer funds were used to repay HUD for misappropriated (and unrecoverable) federal funds.

Clerk of the Superior Court of Fulton County: An audit currently in the final stages has identified 34 findings/deficiencies. The release of the final report remains pending at November 30, 2009.

Multiple Blue Ribbon Commission Reports (Justice, County Government, etc.) have been shelved without action taken.

2007 Georgia General Assembly Joint Study Committee on Fulton County Government: All recommendations were opposed and resisted by majority of Fulton County Board of Commissioners.

Fulton County has made inequitable investment in parks, senior facilities, libraries and health services on a county-wide or population basis. A review of facility inventory confirms this.

Inadequate investments in road and bridge repairs and maintenance are evidenced by the list of unsafe bridges in Special Service Districts before and after incorporations in 2005 and 2006.

Lack of county-wide storm-water management has negatively impacted water quality and property owners in North and South Fulton.

Fulton County has made inadequate investment in new road and transit needs. In the 1970’s voters approved the use of SPLOST for MARTA. Subsequently, Fulton County has provided no meaningful funding for transportation infrastructure.

Approval of inequitable allocation of MARTA capital funding for service expansion resulted in the removal or delay of approved projects in North and South Fulton.

Consistent lack of elected official cooperation among city, county and state bodies – open hostility, vindictive commentary and hostile environment among public servants who represent shared constituencies.

Consistent violation of Service Delivery Strategy with Cities – use of General Funds for Special Service District services; inability to consummate re-negotiation of a mandatory agreement in 2009 was followed by a request for extension and/or arbitration; cities and county governments risk denial of all state funding without an executed SDS agreement. Citizens are being assessed municipal and county taxes to pay for lawyers to file suits against each other. The citizens are paying to sue themselves.

There has been overt use of Special Service District residual funds (leftover following the 2005 and 2006 incorporation of North and South Fulton cities) to subsidize unincorporated South Fulton operations.

The Board of Commissioners approved an irrevocable annual Defined Benefit retirees COLA of 3% in 2001 which will obligate taxpayers to increasing annual costs, regardless of economic conditions.

Indictment and conviction of Fulton County Commissioners Reginald Eaves, Michael Hightower and Mitch Skandalakis have eroded confidence in the integrity of the Board of Commissioners.

Fulton County has been noted for purchasing and procurement irregularities: repeated delays in contract awards, questionable scoring practices, inconsistent policy compliance.

Animal Control Services in Fulton County: Deficiencies in operations and oversight have been documented. Currently a lawsuit over fees collected by previous service provider is in process as a result of a poorly written contract and no enforcement of contract terms.

Fulton County Registrations and Elections Department:  Over 30 violations in the 2008 General Election Cycle which are currently under investigation by the Georgia Secretary of State. Fines have been assessed for improper handling of voter information in 2007.

These examples of ineffective government are evidence enough of a need for reform.  The citizens of Fulton County deserve local, responsible, and accountable government. The recreation of Milton County and overhaul of Fulton County will allow residents the same privileges of other counties in Georgia.

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